Mine Today, Yours Tomorrow
Mar 12, 2015
Few things bother me more that when people come up to me asking about "squatter's rights." I don't know. Maybe it's because I own a home and the thought of coming home after a vacation and seeing someone sitting in my castle - well, that's really annoying. Anyway, when I first heard that term "squatter," I didn't really know what it was so after a little bit of researching I find that nowadays, it is referred to the more recognizable term "adverse possession."
Adverse possession in the process of obtaining title to abandoned property. I suspect the reason this law is on the books is because government entities didn't like the idea of people buying property and then letting it sit in hopes that it would gain in value. Not wanting properties to just sit and grow weeds (i.e. major eye sore), adverse possession was invented. In California, there are 5 elements to obtaining property through adverse possession. They are:
- Hostile (claim the land to be mine)
- Exclusive (tell everyone it's mine, mine, mine)
- Actual (see, I am physically on the land)
- Open and Notorious (do the wave and make sure everyone sees you on the land)
- Continuous (hold the land for 5 years straight (not just on holidays))
- Pay property taxes (make sure the state gets its cut every year)
Um, about that last one - property taxes. What might happen if, say, the rightful owner was a non-profit organization (like a church) and was exempt from paying taxes? In Hagman v. Meher Mount Corporation, No.B239014 (2nd Dist., April 3, 2013), Mr. Larry Hagman's estate (yeah, the guy from Dallas) fenced about 1/2 acre of Meher Mount Corp's (a tax exempt organization) land. and improved upon it. After 24 years of this, Hagman's estate decided it wanted the land as their own and filed for quiet title. Meher Mount said no dice because Hagman had not paid property taxes. The court reasoned that because Meher Mount was exempt from paying property taxes, that Hagman estate shouldn't have to pay taxes, either. So Mr. Ewing rode off into the sunset with another victory under his hat. JR Ewing would be proud.
Bottom line, if you are unsure of your rights, your best bet is to go to your local county law library and bone up on the law and all legal things. Why? Because we have everything you need to know what lawyers know and any good lawyer knows the place to get in the know is at your local county law library (aka, the RCLL). That's why!
Bret is a Legal Research & Instructional Services Librarian at our Main Library.